This calendar of saints is drawn from several denominations, sects, and traditions. Although it will no longer be updated daily, the index on the right will guide visitors to a saint celebrated on any day they choose. Additional saints will be added as they present themselves to Major.

Friday, May 18, 2012

May 18 -- Feast of Pope Saint John I

His Holiness, John I.
Here's another good guy who could play in the big league of sixth century politics, but probably shouldn't have been in the starting line-up.  First, amidst all the posturing of rival claimants to the papacy, he backed the wrong horse.  It could be a deadly thing to put your clout behind a loser, as many folks found out in street fights between Laurentius (John's man) and Symmachus (the eventual pope).  Since no one wanted the streets of Rome cluttered with the bodies of dead zealots, they rival popes submitted their cases to Theodoric the Goth, King of Italy.  Whether due to a bribe (as the losers claimed) or the justice of his cause (as the winners claimed), Symmachus was judged to be the duly elected Pope, even though he was an ardent Catholic (Orthodox) Christian and Theodoric was an Arian. [For a little background on the Arian heterodoxy, see here.]   John knew enough to apologize to Pope Symmachus and anathematize his old pal, Laurentius.  On the strength of that, he kept his gig as deacon and eventually wound up becoming pope about twenty-five years later.

His Royal Unholiness, Theodoric the Pope-Killer
Theodoric was still King of Italy, and he was still an Arian.  The Byzantine Emperor Justin, however, was ardently Orthodox.  He had pressured many Arians to convert to Orthodox Christianity, mostly by confiscating churches and denying them jobs.  Theodoric commissioned the new pope to gather a crew and visit Justin to press for a reversal of all the anti-Arian policies that had been implemented in the East.  Theodoric, being a Goth, felt it only fair to warn Pope John that the duration of his life could be predicted by the success of his mission. 

No Pope had ever traveled outside Italy before.  In Constantinople, he was welcomed about as well as Jesus himself would have been -- maybe better.  The entire population of the city lined up along the road from the twelfth milestone to cheer him as he arrived.  He sat on a throne higher than the Patriarch of Constantinople.  And Justin invited him, rather than his own Patriarch, to place the Easter Crown on his head. 

His Majesty, Emperor Justin I -- nice earrings, dude

However,  Justin wasn't much inclined to give ground on this heresy thing.  After all, the Son was plainly homoousian -- that had been settled at Nicea.  These Arians were willful and sinful and obstinate.  They ought to have been beaten like the mules they were becoming. 

To his credit, Pope John pointed out that all the things Justin had done to Arians in the East could be done to Catholics in the West by Theodoric.  Justin gave ground on the churches and the jobs, but he would not let apostates re-apostatize back to Arianism.  Sensing they had reached a firm compromise, John took the agreement back to Theodoric. 

Ted had not liked news of the welcome that John had received.  He didn't like the fact that Justin had gotten on well with his pope, nor that John had come back with less than a full case of concessions.  He intercepted the Pope's entourage on its way to Rome and ordered the Pope, under guard, to report immediately to his palace at Ravenna.  Being an old man, Pope John probably did not last long in Theodoric's prison.  He was denied both food and water for his treasonous double-dealing with the eastern emperor, so he probably went in a few days.

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